Tag Archives: manuscripts

Rare Books and Manuscripts Galore! We Get a Low-Down of Last Week’s RBMS Conference from Our Very Own Attendee!

Vic, how many years have you attended RBMS for now?

My first RBMS Conference, then called the Preconference for the conference precedes the big ALA event, was in San Francisco, 2002.  I was the local ABAA rep to the RBMS Local Affairs committee, and helped with things like stuffing the book bag, helping arrange the ABAA hosted reception, etc.  The conference hotel was the Fairmont, which is a lovely hotel at the top of Nob Hill.  I confess I don’t remember too many specifics of the conference itself, just have an overall impression of enjoying the week.

IMG_3096What are some of your most favorite past locales where it has been held?

Having just returned from Miami, I can definitely say that locale was one of my favorites, though one prior that does stick out was a number of years ago [2009] when the conference was held in Charlottesville, VA to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the event.  Always like travelling to Charlottesville.  Another that comes to mind was that of 2013, which was held in Minneapolis.  The reason this one is memorable is because, even though I was registrered, I had to cancel at the last minute, as I contracted a bout of pleurisy [as you may also remember!].  Ouch!

Could you give us a walk-through of this weekend, or a typical RBMS weekend? Conferences, showcases – give us the low-down!

The week is filled with sessions & panels, etc., etc.  As you might imagine, as one of the trade, not all issues germane to the librarian community has relevance to my work, however, by better understanding those issues important to my institutional clientele, I can better serve them, which is my job.  The bookseller showcase is an adjunct to the conference, which provides the curators attending the conference an opportunity to sample the wares of my colleagues & discuss with those exhibiting booksellers their needs/wants.

What have you learned at this past RBMS? What conferences did you attend and who struck you as a phenomenally great speaker?


The Chairman of Florida's Welcome Committee!

The Chairman of Florida’s Welcome Committee!

The individual that immediately comes to mind, Pellom McDaniels, was a speaker this year at the Thursday afternoon panel [“A Broad and Deep Look at Outreach”] held at the University of Miami.  The intent of the session was “to demonstrate the myriad ways special collections and archives can engage and interact with multiple constituencies.”  This fellow from Emory was high energy, engaged & enthusiastic.  And you could tell from his presentation, that he had achieved the goal of “engaging & interacting”.  It was good to see that, at least in his case, special collections was reaching out beyond the reading room, and showing the community the wonders that lie behind the mahogany doors.


Why do you do the RBMS showcase? Is it to sell? Or is it rather to meet new people? 

The intent of the showcase is to provide an opportunity for both the bookseller & the librarian communities to interact.  It is most definitely NOT a bookfair.  Remember, the booksellers are there as an adjunct to the conference, in other words, the showcase is not the main event.


Some of the usual suspects...

Some of the usual suspects…

Would you recommend attending RBMS to other booksellers? What about newbie booksellers? Librarians?

If institutional clientele are part of your business model, or you wish to add them to your customer list, then yes, the showcase provides an *opportunity* to do this.  Granted, it’s not the only way, just one way, especially if you are a new ABAA member, it’s one way to do so.  As for the librarian community, if your responsibilites include collection develeopment, then yes, meeting and talking with the exhibiting booksellers can help you with this facet of your job.  Afterall, if you’re fishing [for books], why not cast a wide net?

In summary, this past week was a great one-  both from a program perspective, as well as a venue.  The Biltmore Hotel is a grand old lady, whose elegance if fading somewhat, but she still outshines many younger models.  Next year’s conference will be in Iowa City.  While certainly it’ll be different than Miami, I have no doubt it too will be a success.



Thomas Dorr’s Treasonous Stand for Voting Rights


The Rhode Island First Light Infantry Company was formed in 1818 as a state militia company based in Providence. Affiliated with the Second Regiment of the Rhode Island militia, it saw no active duty. Indeed, for the majority of its history the company’s activities were more like those of a social club than of a militia–with a notable exception. The company helped to quell the Dorr Rebellion, even though some of its members actually fought alongside the rebels. Led by Thomas Wilson Dorr, the rebels sought to extend suffrage to the working class. Although Dorr was eventually convicted of treason, his ideas were influential enough that Rhode Island finally revised its archaic voting requirements.

A State Ripe for Revolution

In 1833, Rhode Island’s voting regulations were over 200 years old. Thus the only people who could vote were white, natural born males who owned land. But Rhode Island’s demographics had shifted; the population had grown, but the number of landowners had increased only by a small percentage. Self-educated carpenter Seth Luther was among the first to protest the old voting laws. His “Address on the Right of Free Suffrage” (1833) pointed out that 12,000 working people were at the mercy of Rhode Island’s 5,000 landowners, whom he called “mushroom lordlings, sprigs of nobility…[and] small potato aristocrats.” Luther urged his fellow citizens to stop cooperating with the government, to refuse to pay taxes and serve in the militia.


The People’s ticket was designed to connect the Dorr Rebellion with the American Revolution.

As support for voting reform grew, a somewhat unlikely champion for the cause emerged. Thomas Wilson Dorr was an attorney who hailed from a relatively wealthy family. Dorr served in the Rhode Island General Assembly, and in 1834 he attended a convention at Providence to discuss the issue of universal suffrage (then defined as “voting rights for all males.” But the legislature failed to pass any reforms. By 1841, Rhode Island one of only a few states that hadn’t adopted universal suffrage for white males. it was also the only state that had not adopted its own written constitution. That year the Rhode Island Suffrage Association was founded, and the organization sponsored a demonstration on the streets of Providence.

That year, both the Dorrites and the conservatives drew up their own constitutions. The conservative constitution maintained the same voting requirements as the 1663 charter. Meanwhile, at the “People’s Convention,” Dorr and his faction drew up a constitution that permitted all white males to vote. Dorr’s version got approval in referendum, but that was ruled illegal since it hadn’t been called by the government. The government’s constitution was defeated in a separate referendum. It seemed that Rhode Island had reached a stalemate. The Dorrites then decided to put their constitution to a vote. About 14,000 people voted for it, including 5,000 landowners; it won the majority even among only those who were currently allowed to vote. Although the vote was illegal, it did show the government that its citizens supported universal suffrage.


Dorr’s gubernatorial portrait

In 1842, both factions went so far as to hold their own elections, and two separate governments emerged. The conservatives were based in Newport, and the Dorrites established themselves in Providence. Dorr ran for governor unopposed and, with 6,000 votes, was elected in April 1842. Obviously this election was also illegal, and Rhode Island’s rightful governor petitioned President Tyler to intercede. He invoked a clause in the US Constitution that permitted the federal government to provide troops to control local rebellions at the request of the state government.

Undone by Racism


This broadside was published only one day before Dorr staged his rebellion.

Undeterred, the Dorittes held an inauguration ball for Dorr on May 3, 1843. The parade included not only local workers, but even members of the local militia! The parade marched through the streets of Providence. Shortly thereafter, the People’s legislature convened. Dorr’s next move was ill calculated. With the support of many local militia members, Dorr staged an attack on the state arsenal. But it ended quickly and disastrously when a cannon misfired. The government immediately ordered Dorr’s arrest on charges of treason, and Dorr was forced to flee Rhode Island.

And the People’s party had made another terrible move; despite the protests of Dorr and other members, their constitution extended voting rights only to white males. The Rhode Island government used this to its advantage, promising that any new voting legislation would allow blacks to vote. Soon black men were volunteering to join the Law and Order militia, which had been organized to quell the riot and defeat the faction that would deny them the right to vote.

When Dorr came back to Rhode Island, he found that although he had several hundred men ready to fight for his cause, they were far outnumbered by the Law and Order militia. Dorr went back into hiding to regroup. Martial law was declared in Rhode Island. At least 100 rebel soldiers were captured and taken to prison in Providence–after they were put on display, of course.

 Rebellion Leads to Reform

Though it appeared that the rebellion had been quashed, legislators now fully appreciated the support for amending suffrage requirements. They drafted a new constitution. The vote was extended to include not only property owners, but also those who paid a one-dollar poll tax. Naturalized citizens could vote if they held at least $134 in real estate. Then elections were held in 1843. The Law and Order group still met opposition from Dorrites, but used intimidation to get people to vote. The conservatives still lost in industrial areas, but got the votes in more rural zones. Ultimately the Law and Order group won the major offices.

That year Dorr returned to Rhode Island and was arrested on the street in Providence. He soon went to trial for treason, and the judge instructed the jury to put aside all political arguments and to ignore Dorr’s motives. They were to reach a decision only on specific, overt acts. Dorr had, of course, admitted to all his actions, so he was speedily convicted. The judge sentenced him to life in prison and hard labor. But Dorr would spend only twenty months in jail; the new Rhode Island governor thought it wise to pardon him, rather than let him languish in prison as a martyr.


The Dorrite cause still had support even after the rebellion had been quashed, as evidenced in this 1844 polemic.

A Last Stand at the Supreme Court

Rhode_Island_Light_Infantry_VolumesThough the Dorrites had been defeated, they remained in public consciousness for many more years, most notably through a landmark Supreme Court case. In Luther v Bordn (1849), Luther made a trespassing suit against the Law and Order militia. He alleged that the People’s government was truly a legitimate, elected government in 1842. Daniel Webster defended the militia, arguing that granting such legitimacy jeopardized the very existence of government and could lead to total anarchy. The Supreme Court ruled that it would defer to the President and Congress in matters of war and revolution, a conservative stance.

This period was certainly a dramatic one in Rhode Island history, particularly for members of the local militia. The company journals of the Rhode Island Infantry Company, which we’re proud to offer, capture these events as they were experienced by militia members at the time. Handwritten by a series of members, the four-volume set of records stretches from 1818 to 1873, providing exceptional context for quite a long era in American and local history.

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A Look Back at Long-Lost Manuscripts

MarkTwainOn February 13, 1991, Sotheby’s made an incredible announcement: the auction house had Mark Twain’s long-lost manuscript of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The manuscript bore edits in Twain’s own hand and had scenes not included in the published novel. The discovery and subsequent authentication sparked an argument over who had rights to the manuscript.

The recovered manuscript was unearthed in a set of trunks sent to a Los Angeles librarian after her aunt, a resident of upstate New York where Twain once lived, passed away. It constitutes the first half of the Huckleberry Finn manuscript. The second half had been in the possession of the librarian’s grandfather James Gluck. Gluck had solicited the manuscript directly from Twain for the Buffalo and Erie Library. At the time, Twain had been unable to find the first half of the manuscript, and it was presumed lost.

A “custody battle” ensued among the librarian and her sister; the library; and the Mark Twain Papers Project in Berkeley, California. They finally agreed that the library would take the papers, but that all three would share publication rights. The manuscript was published by Random House in 1995.

The discovery of such a document generates excitement among scholars and rare book collectors alike. The Huckleberry Finn manuscript was but one of many such documents to turn up unexpectedly.

Corroborating Robert Hooke’s Claim to an Invention

Robert_HookeRevered scientist Robert Hooke was one of the original fellows of the Royal Society and the curator of the group’s experiments. He was also responsible for recording the organization’s minutes from 1661 to 1682. The minutes make for fascinating reading, not least because of Hooke’s own asides and commentary. They recount many seminal moments in science, including the earliest work with a microscope and the first sightings of sperm and micro-organisms. This fascinating 500-page document didn’t show up until 2006, when it was discovered in a dusty cabinet.

The minutes from December 1679 detail correspondence between Hooke and Sir Isaac Newton regarding the design of an experiment to confirm the rotation of the earth. Hooke recorded a suggestion from Sir Christopher Wren, which required shooting bullets into the air at precise angles to see if they fell in a circle. But perhaps even more interesting is that the document finally elucidates a feud between Hooke and Dutch physicist Chistiaan Huygens.

Huygens announced that he’d invented a watch that would keep its own time for several days and would make it possible to measure longitude, which infuriated Hooke. He claimed that he’d showed the Royal Society the same invention five years earlier, and that someone must have leaked the design. Hooke embarked on a mission to prove he’d invented the watch first. He painstakingly combed through years of Royal Society minutes, looking for proof of his own invention. Ironically, he’d ripped out the notes about the invention itself and taken them home for safekeeping–only to misplace them. In this newly discovered document, Hooke exonerates himself: he records a quote from his predecessor, Henry Oldenberg, about Hooke’s presentation of the invention–five years earlier than Huygens, just as Hooke had alleged.

A First Look at Yellowstone


Diamond City ca 1870

By 1869, prospectors’ accounts of their finds at the Diamond City gold camp were both outlandish and persistent. Incredulous, thirty-year-old mining engineer David E Folsom decided to investigate for himself. In September of 1869, he undertook a treacherous expedition with friends Charles Cook and William Peterson. The group’s military envoy had canceled, and other would-be adventurers backed out, unwilling to venture into hostile territory unescorted.

During the four-week expedition, the group witnessed and documented the natural wonders of the area. They also took numerous measurements of the land, even using a rock on a string to measure the height of waterfalls. Folsom recorded their experiences and tried to sell his account to a number of prominent national magazines. They all turned him down because the tales seemed too fantastic to be real. Finally a small Chicago paper called Western Monthly ran the story. Folsom’s account contributed to the deployment of both the Washburn-Doane-Langford expedition (1870) and the Hayden expedition (1871)–which subsequently led Congress to make Yellowstone the first national park.

Folsom’s great-grandson David A Folsom found the original manuscript, written in pencil on lined paper. Two other manuscript copies had been destroyed in two separate fires, and had previously been the only extant copies. The younger Folsom gave the manuscript to Montana State University’s Renne Library Special Collections, where it still resides today.

Truman Capote, Kathryn Graham, and a Little Hashish

Ever the journalist, Truman Capote wasn’t known for glossing over his acquaintances’ secrets (or character flaws). Many a New York socialite fell victim to his pen–with one notable exception. Kathryn Graham never seemed to appear in Capote’s work. That all changed with the discovery of an unpublished story, “Yachts and Things” among Capote’s papers at the New York Public Library.


In the story, the narrator (presumably Capote) recounts a cruise along the Turkish coast with a “distinguished” and “intellectual” woman called Mrs. Williams. Their hosts have been called away due to a death in the family, and another guest has just passed away. One evening, the two invite some Turks aboard and smoke hashish for the first time. Though the hosts aren’t named, the deceased companion is named Adlai Stevenson.The researchers who discovered the story conjectured that the woman in the story was actually Graham because of her well-documented relationship with Stevenson, and they didn’t do much further research.

But a look at Graham’s own autobiography, Personal History, yields a more definitive answer. Graham, Capote, and Stevenson were invited on the trip by Gianna and Marcella Agnelli, who were unable to join their guests because of a death in the family. Graham and Capote stopped in London, and Graham coyly tells how Stevenson stayed with her (and forgot his tie and glasses in the morning). Stevenson died of a heart attack the next day. Graham and Capote decided to go on the cruise anyway, and Graham says they passed the time discussing Capote’s soon-to-be-published In Cold Blood.

Manuscripts like these will always be beloved because they seem to offer us a greater intimacy with the author. They illustrate the author’s own writing process, essentially illuminating the process of creating great history and literature.

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Collecting Antiquarian Diaries, Journals, and Correspondence

In this age of electronic communication, the practice of keeping a journal or diary has largely fallen by the wayside, as has the art of letter writing. But in past centuries, keeping a diary was the only means of creating a written record of one’s life, the only way to look back at one’s personal past. In bygone days, farmers may have recorded observations about crops, livestock, and weather in a journal. Soldiers recorded strife,while ordinary men and women simply recorded the simple details of their daily lives. And written correspondence was the primary method for maintaining long-distance relationships.

Looking back at these documents can give us tremendous insight into the aspects of life that history books often omit. They may reveal facts about the diet, customs, or etiquette of the time period. They sometimes shed light on genealogy and local history. Journals and correspondence may even reveal the real motivations behind historic events or explain the nuanced relationships among important individuals.

Tips for Collecting Diaries, Journals, and Correspondence

For many collectors, diaries and journals are appealing because each volume is an absolutely unique manuscript. Such a document is quite a treasure, indeed. Collectors should keep a few tips and hints in mind.

  • Look for complete sets, rather than individual volumes of journals and diaries. Faithful diarists will often have produced a number of volumes over the course of their lifetimes. Stay away from individual volumes that have most likely been removed from a set.
  • Decide whether you’ll digitize your collection. This will require the assistance of a skilled archivist or conservator. Digitizing these items is an investment, but it will enhance your ability to enjoy the content of your collection–and to share it with scholars if the content proves significant.
  • Be gentle! Old paper can be quite brittle, while covers may be fragile. Handle them with care, and consider professional conservation or preservation to extend the life of your collection.
  • Don’t overlook ephemera. Journals frequently contain extra items, which can range from dried flowers to vacation souvenirs. These items damage the pages on either side. A conservator may recommend carefully documenting each item’s location and storing it separately in an archival envelope.
  • If correspondence is still contained in the original envelopes, consult a conservator about the best means to preserve both the envelopes and the letters inside. Chemical interactions between materials–even between two sheets of the same or similar papers–can hasten breakdown.

A Selection of Diaries and Journals

Journal Across the Atlantic

Journal_Across_AtlanticOriginal mss journals such as this are quite rare in commerce. An unidentified male passenger recorded the details of his 1785 transatlantic journey from London to Philadelphia. He records the names and nationalities of the crew and passengers, along with the daily minutiae of life aboard the ship. Events include the sighting of a “grampus whale,” an encounter with a Spanish ship, and a lively debate over how moths and butterflies came to be aboard the ship. Details>>

Notes from Lectures of Professor Alonzo Clarke for 1848-1849

Almon Mitchell Orcutt attended the College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York. The first 136 pages of his journal consist of notes he took during the lectures of Alonzo Clarke, a noted physician and professor at the college. Clarke was often quoted in medical journals and association reports. He famously said, “All of our curative agents are poisons; and, as a consequence, every dose diminishes the vitality.” He was correct, indeed, given the “medicines” and treatments commonly used at the time. John Harvey Kellogg quotes Clarke in his Home Hand-Book of Domestic Hygiene (volume 2, 1880) in a discussion of the smallpox vaccination. Orcutt’s notes include the semester’s lectures, while the last 68 pages contain financial records. Details>>

Department of the Interior, US Geological Survey

US_Geological_Survey_Notes_JournalThis workbook started out as a record of levels and other data, kept by Allen T Paine, the survey crew levelman. But Paine also used the book as a photo journal. Many of the photographs are captioned. While many show family, friends, and colleagues, a good number also document the buildings of Concord, New Hampshire, along with the survey crew’s work and environs. Details>>

Family Trip Photo Diary/Journal

This period photo journal of a visit to the 1915 Panama Pacific Exposition in San Francisco begins in Albuquerque, New Mexico. It includes 45 images, eight of which clearly depict portions of the journey to San Francisco. One image, for example, shows part of the Salt Lake; another, the Grand Canyon. Fourteen of the images have handwritten captions. Details>>

 Archive of Shuman Family Letter Correspondence, August 1862-September 1866

Shuman_Family_Correspondence_Civil_WarJohn Shuman was in his early twenties when he volunteered for service in the 88th Regiment of the Indiana Volunteers to fight for the Union in the American Civil War. His letters illustrate his confidence in the decision and that he believed the war would be short-lived. It lasted longer than Shuman expected, and he lost his life in battle, not due to wounds, but due to dysentery. The Shumans’ correspondence offers a unique snapshot of a soldier’s life during the war. Details>>

Eleven Manuscript Diaries

Manuscript_DiariesThe author of these diaries, William Antrim Flowers, was born on March 21, 1832 in Champaign County, Ohio. He begins his memoir with his birth and then goes back to the birth of his father in 1804. The memoir is a rich storehouse of family genealogy and history, following his family and relatives as they moved abou tthe Midwest in the early nineteenth century. Flowers also documents his own life, during which he worked variously as a teamster, a wagon driver, a teacher, and a dairy farmer. He saw the first McCormick reaper in 1855 and enlisted to serve in the Civil War. Flowers records descriptions of his own experiences in the war, along with a description of the 114th Colored Regiment Infantry and the 44th Colored Regiment; and the death of Abraham Lincoln. Details>>

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